With the Phoenix Suns hosting WWE Night on Wednesday night, Suns VP of Digital Jeramie McPeek went one-on-one with one of the all-time WWE greats, the “Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels, for an exclusive interview.
The Hall-of-Famer, who retired in 2010 following WrestleMania 26 at University of Phoenix Stadium, shared his thoughts on current WWE Superstar Daniel Bryan, his lifelong love of the NBA, and his new book, Wrestling for My Life, which just broke into the Top 10 of sports books on the New York Times Best Sellers list this week.
Suns.com: Everybody knows you as a Texan, but you were actually born in Arizona, right? Michaels: I was. Williams Air Force Base (in Mesa). Two months later, my father was getting ready to go to Viet Nam and we got stationed over in Labrador, England. So I went out there as a baby and then came back to Iowa while my dad was serving. When he was done, we moved to Del Rio, Texas when I was 8-years old and I’ve been in Texas ever since.
Suns.com: You obviously don’t remember those first couple months of life, but Arizona must be a special place for you, as you had your last-ever match here in 2010, facing the Undertaker at WrestleMania 26 at University of Phoenix Stadium. In fact, your new book begins by describing a scene of you in your hotel room in Glendale after that match, as you became emotional, crying and thanking God at the same time for your career.
Michaels: Yeah. Obviously, I was a baby when I left there, but I’ve always known where I was born and there is a little bit of irony there, having my last match in Arizona. That was one of those evenings where everything gets real for you. You’re sitting there taking it all in, and the realization that you’ll never have another wrestling match again sort of sinks in, and you reflect on what was a wonderful career. Then having the opportunity to end it on such a fabulous note, it was a pretty emotional time.
Suns.com: You were known as Mr. WrestleMania, having stolen the show at so many of WWE’s biggest events over the years, and I know there were a lot of emotions involved in those. Whether it was the joy of winning your first WWE Championship, defeating Bret Hart in the 60-minute Iron Man match in 1996, or the anger and bitterness you felt having to lose to Stone Cold Steve Austin and walk away with what everyone thought was a career-ending back injury in 1998. But how about that final match in 2010? What were you feeling as you walked down that long ramp at UOP Stadium, knowing it was going to be your last match, and how did you feel after the match was over and you walked backstage as 72,000- fans gave you a standing ovation?
Michaels: Going in, it was a good feeling because my family was there. But there was a little anxiety, because it’s still WrestleMania and it was the last one. You know people expected it to be really good. Because it was the Undertaker again, there were going to be a lot of comparisons to the last one (2009). So for all the upside you get out of just enjoying the moment that is WrestleMania, there was a little anxiety and a little stress wanting to just deliver a really good match.
But afterwards, it was just complete joy and then also, I think a lot of mental and physical and even spiritual exhaustion. “It’s over.” And again, that’s when it settled in. That’s when it got real. And it was almost as if everything under God’s green earth had been lifted off my shoulders and it was a nice feeling. It was a bit surreal, but I would have to say it was really the next day when everything settled in. Honestly, getting to make that speech on RAW, I felt like the luckiest guy in the world honestly. I couldn’t think of a better way for it to go, for it to end, and to have the opportunity and the time to express all of that on RAW was wonderful. That’s when it’s all allowed to be real and you’re allowed to talk about the wrestling business and your life in the WWE, in a very real sense. And it was a joy to be able to do that well.
Suns.com: We were just about to ask you about that episode of RAW, the night after WrestleMania, which was held here at US Airways Center. What do you remember about that night and how the fans here treated you?
Michaels: The WWE just said, “You take your time. It’s all in your hands. Whatever it is you want to do, and however long you want to take, we’ll let you go.” Obviously, Taker came by and said, “I’m going to come out,” and I said, “Alright.” He said, “I don’t know what I’m going to do, but just know I’m coming, and after that, I’ll get out of there and let you have your time.” He came out right at the beginning and tipped his hat. It’s one of those things that, when he and I are together, to think about the journey that we’ve taken together and for it to culminate in those last two (WrestleMania) matches, it was very special.
Again, having my family there, and having my best friend there in Hunter (Triple H), and then getting to talk about the reconciliation with Bret (Hart)… It was hard to encapsulate a whole lifetime in 15 minutes or whatever that was, but I certainly did my best to express that, and be very honest with the people and everyone involved, about how much doing that job meant to me. At one time, actually a lot of times, I think it’s what kept me alive. And then my faith and my family, I truly believe they are what kept me alive ever since and continued to help mold me into the man that I want to be and the man that I hope to be.… for all the wonderful accomplishments that I was fortunate enough to obtain in the wrestling business, what I see in the eyes of my wife and my children are the joys I never knew a person could have. So again, that night was just the best I could do to tell everybody how thankful I was for each and every one of the people that have affected my life, and there have been a lot of them.
Suns.com: You’ve had a lot of matches here at US Airways Center over the years. I actually found an old photo from a event in the early ‘90s when you were facing Bret in our building, interestingly. But we met briefly in 2008, when you guys were in the arena for a RAW show one night. I was downstairs outside the Suns Practice Court with the media waiting to interview Shaq after his first practice with the Suns and saw you in the hallway. I introduced myself and we actually traded some friendly trash talk, about the Suns and Spurs. How long have you been a Spurs fan?
Michaels: (Laughs) Honestly, it started way back in the days of George Gervin. One of the things my dad and I got to bond over was going to the San Antonio Spurs games when Gervin was there, James Silas… I can’t remember the rest of the guys’ names, but it was a fun time. Then fast forward many years later during that time when I was off (from wrestling), between ’98 and 2002, those were some of my wife and I’s first dates going to the Spurs games. I went ahead and became a season ticket holder and my wife and I went to a fair amount of games before our kids were born.
I am so proud of them. They are absolutely the classiest organization ever and I think that’s what I appreciate about them most. Very few times do the nice guys finish first... It starts with the people upstairs and the owner, but (Gregg) Popovich is a stand-up, class guy and it just exudes throughout the team. They are wonderful people and it’s been nice to watch them be so dominant over the last decade. And, obviously, I’m a huge Tim Duncan fan, and he has snuck into a great number of wrestling matches, too. He’s a great supporter of ours. So any time I’ve had an opportunity to go back and do something with them, I’ve done it.
Suns.com: You mentioned that the Spurs are the “good guys.” Suns fans probably wouldn’t agree with that statement, but what do you think about the rivalry these two teams have had over the years?
Michaels: I think it’s good for the sport. You know, rivalries and a little tension… it’s just like our line of work, in many respects. Any time you can get a little bit personal, it just adds that much to it. Whether it’s NASCAR or whether it’s football, or whether it’s the NBA, any time something spills over to the point where somebody makes a WWE reference, I always think it’s a good thing. Regardless of what people think of the WWE, we’re great at storylines, we’re great at drawing money, we’re great at causing controversy, and when the other sports do it, they usually do better. It keeps it interesting and makes it fun for the fans.
Suns.com: I was going to ask you what the NBA could take from the WWE. I was thinking better promos, with NBA players challenging each other, or maybe championship belts instead of rings.
Michaels: Well, I would say the promos, but there are some really respectable young men in the NBA. You know, you get a guy like Tim Duncan and he’s not a trash talker. The Big Fundamental is just good. He goes out there and plays well. So the talking smack doesn’t work for people that it doesn’t come natural, too. But I think the last thing the NBA needs is help from a former WWE superstar (laughs).
Suns.com: The Undertaker, Kane, Big Show and Kevin Nash all played basketball in college. Did you ever play hoops, being an NBA fan, yourself?
Michaels: I did not. Being in Texas, I focused on playing football, and did a little shot put and discus in the offseason, but that was the extent of my (high school sports). The rest of my time was spent trying to figure out how I was going to become a professional wrestler.
Suns.com: There have been some NBA players who have stepped inside the squared circle. Karl Malone and Dennis Rodman faced off in WCW in 1998. Shaq mixed it up with the Big Show on an episode of RAW a few years back. Are there any current NBA players that you think could make good wrestlers?
Michaels: Well, you know what… every once in a blue moon, I think about Kevin Garnett maybe. But I honestly don’t know. I think those guys who did it, they found out really quick… if you ask any one of them, they’ll tell you, “My goodness, I don’t know how those guys do that on a regular basis.” I think that’s the thing that every athlete who tries to do what we do, very quickly comes to have a great deal of respect for us. They see what they’re putting their bodies through on that one night and then they sort of grasp that we do that 250-300 times a year and don’t have an offseason, and that’s when they say, “Not for me.”
Suns.com: LeBron has the look of a wrestler with his size and build. Maybe for just a pay-per-view or two?
Michaels: Certainly. And he seems to be a big WWE fan. He’s been at a lot of the events and he really enjoys it. Obviously, he is a big ‘ol stud, but I think he’d have a lot of trouble getting into the ring, not because he wouldn’t want to, but because the people who are dependent on him wouldn’t let him.
Suns.com: The Suns are having WWE Night on Wednesday, with appearances by Daniel Bryan, Dolph Ziggler and the Bellas. You trained Daniel early on. How proud are you of his success?
Michaels: Oh, very! Very! But at the same time, not surprised. He was a talented young man, he was always a hard worker and that’s a combination that is hard to deny. The only thing you have to have is patience and an attitude that you aren’t ever going to give up. He had that as well. As proud as I am of him, I’m not surprised by it and I don’t think other people should be. That’s one of the things that I think is funny, people have a hard time grasping; people like him and people like me didn’t get into the wrestling business just to do it, just to be average. We got into it to excel and to be really good at it, and hopefully make an impact that lasts a long time, and he’s no different.
Suns.com: Are you surprised at all by just how popular he is with the fans?
Michaels: No, not really. Let’s put it this way. I know there are a number of people who feel like the WWE is not behind him, but clearly if the WWE was not behind him, some of that popularity wouldn’t be there. Whether people like the way they’ve gone about it, that’s obviously a debatable thing, but you know, the “Yes! Yes!” and the “No! No!,” and all that kind of stuff, those don’t always come from the individual, and that has a great deal to do with some of his popularity. Those are ideas that other people help out with. Not to make it sound like he didn’t build that, because he did. But the WWE is a huge machine and I think even Daniel Bryan would be the first to tell somebody that he wouldn’t be where he’s at without the help of that huge machine behind him. And that’s the case for all of us. What they do is give you that opportunity, just like they gave me the opportunity. He’s taken advantage of that opportunity, made the most of it, and in those areas where they’ve helped him out, he continues to make the most of that and continues to build on that. So I think he’s doing all the right things and I have no surprises whatsoever that he’ll continue to be successful well into the future.
Suns.com: You’ve said many times that you’re happily retired and have no plans of coming back. But boy, I have to tell you, that a match between you two would be amazing.
Michaels: Well, I appreciate it. Everybody always asks me, “Gosh, do you have one more in you?” and I tell them, “No, I’ve got about 15 more in me.” But I always felt like that was the point. I mean, I just think it’s a bad idea if you shoot your last bullet and you’ve got none left. That just makes you vulnerable for Heaven’s sake. The whole point of leaving on top is to leave on top.
Suns.com: Tell us about your book. This is a different side of Shawn Michaels
Michaels: It is. Obviously, it’s still me, as I’m reflecting on my life. But where the first (book) left off, it continues from there, but also looks back at different aspects of my career. The first one was very much just really from the wrestling lens of my life. This one is a look at my entire life and my career through the lens of my faith, and that’s a very different thing. I wanted to have an opportunity to write about that. It’s a little difficult to do that when you’re still in the throes of wrestling on a regular basis, but when you are five years removed and looking back, and you are able to see God’s hand in even the strange stuff – even when I wasn’t walking with the Lord, I can see he was working in my life – and those are things you can’t really see until you take the time, slow down and sit back and reflect on your career and your life and the decision that you’ve made.
I would like to think that it’s a book that is honest and open, and it challenges men, women, whoever you are, to do what I did and take that time and have what I call that “mirror moment,” where you look at yourself in the mirror and you are honest with yourself, and you are honest about the faults in yourself and being open to making change. I think sometimes we as a culture don’t like to do that. It’s not a fun time sitting there being honest with yourself and talking about your shortcomings, but I think if you are willing to do that, you are going to be a better person, and the people around you are going to be better for it, as well.
Suns.com: You were very honest and open with the wild, out-of-control life you were living between the drugs and alcohol and strip clubs through the first part of your career. I know you are not proud of those years, but that’s really a part of your story now, how your faith completely changed your life.
Michaels: For sure. I get asked a lot, “Do you have any regrets?” Of course I would like to have not made any of the mistakes, but at the same time, we travel the road we travel for a reason and it’s to bring us to where we’re at. And I wouldn’t change where I’m at right now for anything in the world, and I don’t think I would have gotten here if it wasn’t for that road. So I am thankful for that. Clearly, not all of them were wise decisions. But as I said before, that’s what this book is about. To see that even in some of those unwise decisions, I can see God’s hand working. He is a sovereign God. The fact of the matter is, whether you know Him or you don’t know Him, He is working in your life, and the greatest thing in one’s life they can do is to realize that too work with Him is a lot easier than working against Him.
Suns.com: When you returned to WWE in 2002, you had scriptures on your shirts. You got down on your knees and said a prayer in front of the entire arena during your introductions. Were you ever nervous or hesitant at all at how others in the business, or even fans would react at first?
Michaels: No, I’ll be honest. For the most part, at the beginning, I was so overwhelmed and so overjoyed, I was telling anybody that would listen. I think after a while, I settled into it a little more and realized that this was going to be more than just a one-off (at SummerSlam 2002). I guess I might’ve come on a little heavy at first and I didn’t know how much time I was going to have. But once I realized, “Okay, you’re back wrestling,” I think it settled in a little more. But I think some of that comes with maturing in your walk, as well. Again, I try to be honest about that in the book. Let’s face it, I’m no theologian or Biblical scholar. I’m just a dude telling my story. But to answer your question, yeah, everybody is going to say something. That’s just the world we live in, but you just have to make a decision to come to a place where you are no longer going to focus on that stuff. You’re going to focus on the one thing that matters. And that is, there’s never going to be a day where you have to stand before the people and answer to those who were around you saying stuff. That day is never going to come. You’re never going to have to explain yourself to those people. You’re going to have to stand before a Holy God and He is going to ask you what you did with His son, and that’s when you’re going to have to have an answer. That was very heartening to me and emboldened me quite a bit to no longer worry about that kind of stuff and just be who you’re going to be.
Suns.com: Last question. During your wrestling career, you were known as the Heartbreak Kid, the Showstopper, the Main Event, Mr. WrestleMania... What do you want to be known as today?
Michaels: You know what? As far as out there in the world, it doesn’t really matter to me. I want my wife to see me as a loving, Godly husband, and I want my kids to see me as a loving, Godly father. That’s about the extent of it. And I don’t mean that disrespectfully towards fans, but those three are the only people I’m really concerned about right now. I think over time, people’s reputations, the history, all of that kind of stuff changes. It all depends on who’s writing it, who’s spinning it. So I don’t put a lot of stock in all of that stuff. I just want to be a good dad and a good husband, and whatever else is out there about me professionally, I’ll leave that to the rest of the world to determine.